Hideki Okajima?s career with the Red Sox has been a bit like the mountain climber in The Price is Right. As he hikes the hill, fighting age and the fact that the rest of the league seemed to figure him out a bit, he gets a bit closer to falling off the edge.
That plunge nearly came in 2010, when the lefty reliever?s struggles intensified. The 2007 American League All-Star was no longer a viable option to help finish off opponents and finally was shelved with a sudden hamstring injury, weeks after expressing to one reporter that he felt a bit isolated in the clubhouse. Rookie left-hander Felix Doubront was thrust into Okajima’s former role and received rave reviews.
With so many factors piled against him, is Hideki Okajima worth being tendered a contract?
To answer the question let?s begin with the negatives. Okie turns 35 on Christmas. His respective ERAs over his four years with the Red Sox are as follows: 2.22, 2.61, 3.39, and 4.50. His WHIPs over his four years with the Red Sox are as follows: 0.971, 1.161, 1.262, and 1.717. Opponents? batting average over that time: .202, .212, .242, .314.
Absolutely nothing is trending in the right direction and a glance beyond the sheer numbers suggests that Okajima is a sure casualty. For one, the free agent market is satiated with capable and proven middle- and late-inning guys who showcased far superior numbers than Okajima did in 2010, are younger and in many cases cheaper. Two, Doubront represents a perfect option to replace Okajima if the club elects to keep him in the role of a reliever. The 23-year-old is a lefty who can also get out batters from both sides and showed in his short stint with the team in 2010 that he can handle late-game pressure (he entered before the seventh inning in just one of his nine relief appearances).
Newly acquired southpaw Andrew Miller may represent another left-handed bullpen option.
The chips are certainly stacked against Okajima continuing his career in Boston. His saving grace could come in the way he rallied to finish things up in 2010.
After returning from the disabled list near the end of August, Okie looked very much like the seventh- and eighth-inning stopper of previous years. He yielded five hits in 10 scoreless innings immediately upon his return and finished with an ERA of 2.37 after the All-Star break. The sight of Okajima looking a bit like the guy who transformed this bullpen upon his arrival four seasons ago may have some effect on the decision-making process.
Whether that closing flourish is enough to convince the Red Sox to retain an aging and declining reliever for upwards of $2 million is for them to decide. Alternative options seem to dictate they would not.
Each day of November, NESN.com will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Sunday, Nov. 21: Is Jarrod Saltalamacchia a candidate to start at catcher someday?
Tuesday, Nov. 23: Will Scott Atchison be able to duplicate his 2010 effort?